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Germans call for govt. help with energy costs

September 1, 2022

People in Germany are beginning to feel the pinch, in the face of skyrocketing electricity, fuel, and food prices. As inflation rises, concern is mounting — and so is dissatisfaction with the government.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Economy Minister Robert Habeck on August 31 talking to the press outside Meseberg Castle
Voters want the three ruling parties to provide financial assistance in times of crisisImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Mobility has become significantly more expensive again in Germany since September 1. In June, July, and August, the energy tax on fuel was reduced and regional public transport cost only 9€ ($8.95) per month. But now fuel prices have skyrocketed in one fell swoop, and bus and train fares are back to their usual levels with further price hikes imminent due to rising energy prices.

At the same time, more and more people are receiving mail from their gas and electricity suppliers, who are also raising their prices significantly. How can people cope with this? This question, more than any other, is currently dominating the public debate in Germany and thus also the political agenda.

The German government has announced a third "relief package," but has so far left it open as to what exactly it will contain.

Inflation is hitting Germany's poor

Citizens, on the other hand, have concrete expectations. This is shown by the latest ARD Deutschlandtrend survey conducted by the pollster infratest-dimap, which polled 1.324 voters online and in telephone interviews between August 29 and 31.

Overall, not even one in three respondents (29%) argues that government relief should be limited to low-income households. In view of the price increases to date and those that are expected to continue, almost half of all respondents (45%) favor measures that would also ease the burden on households with medium-range incomes, too. Such a German "medium range" income is set at 3,500€ per month before tax, health and unemployment insurance are taken out. One in five would like all citizens to be supported regardless of their income.

infographic showing 22% want support only for low-income households, over 50% want middle-income households to get support, too

For three months this summer, travel on regional transport Germany-wide was possible on a 9-euro monthly pass. 52 million of these were sold. The ticket was attractive not only because of its low price but also because it was valid throughout the country and did away with the confusing patchwork of regulations in the many regional transport associations.

There is significant interest in such a simple ticket going forward. And 59% of those surveyed by infratest would be willing to pay significantly more than nine euros.

A shortage of natural gas — which half of all households in the country use for heating — and rising energy prices pose a huge challenge to policymakers. How can the effect of the high prices be mitigated without too much of a strain on state coffers? Who really needs assistance? And how much support has to be given in order to prevent social upheaval? At the same time, financial pressure is taking its toll on support for a tough foreign policy approach toward Russia.
Slightly more than half of those polled support maintaining existing sanctions, even in the face of rising prices, bottlenecks in energy supply, or disadvantages for the local economy. However, immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of March, this figure was at over two-thirds.

infographic showing that support for sanctions is waning

Four out of ten now oppose sanctions toward Russia, if they have negative consequences and burdens for Germany itself. This attitude is even more prevalent in the east of the country, the former communist GDR, which united with West Germany in 1990 and had close links to the Soviet Union.

Rarely has a German government had to deal with so many massive problems at the same time as the current coalition of center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and business-orientedFree Democrats (FDP).

Fewer and fewer voters are impressed with their leaders' crisis management skills: Only 31% of those surveyed said they are satisfied with the work of the federal government, which is a new low.

September survey of voter support EN

Over the past few weeks cracks have seemed to appear in the coalition. And this seems to be reflected in the survey's results: While supporters of the Social Democrats and the Greens predominantly say they are satisfied, two out of three FDP voters are not impressed.

The reputation of the leaders of all three parties is also declining. Chancellor Olaf Scholz falls to a new low, as does FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner. Even Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck of the Greens has significantly lost support and has to settle for his second-lowest score since taking over the economy ministry. The Green Party's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock remains the most popular politician. But she also has lost support and faces as much approval as rejection.

Annalena Baerbock speaking at a Goethe Institute event in August 2022
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock continues to have high approval ratingsImage: Bodo Schackow/dpa/picture alliance

The tide has changed in Germany, compared to the outcome of the federal election just under a year ago. Back then, the SPD won 25.7% of the vote — now it would only manage 17%. The pollsters put this down to the chancellor's weak performance and disenchantment with the party's foreign policy, social justice and tax policies.

The neoliberal FDP also registers eroding support — with the exception of fiscal policy, where the Finance Minister's refusal to increase tax on companies and the country's most wealthy, appears to pay off with his party's electorate.

The environmentalist Greens, on the other hand, have successfully raised their profile. They continue to be seen as credible and competent when it comes to climate and environmental policy, but they have also raised their profile in all other policy areas, especially foreign policy. At the same time, they have been able to score points on the new issue of a secure energy supply that has arisen in the wake of the Ukraine war.

This article was originally written in German.

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